The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning. But that's just a number. Students from the USC Annenberg School of Journalism interviewed five Los Angeles residents who represent various pockets of the jobs economy, from the gainfully employed to the out-of-work. Here are their stories:
Profile: Working to land a job
By Gracie Zheng
Name: Theresa McLamore
Home: Ventura County, California
Employment Status: Unemployed since July 1, 2011. Previously global market researcher for pharmaceutical firm Baxter International Inc.
Theresa McLamore had worked at Baxter for more than seven years when the company announced last year that it was moving its marketing department to its Deerfield, Ill., headquarters.
In the shuffle, the MBA graduate lost her job, which had paid $144,000, plus stock options and a bonus of about 15 percent. She received a severance package equivalent to three and a half months salary and began collecting unemployment benefits.
After taking a few months off, McLamore began looking for work in February, but has yet to land a job. She has posted her resume on job boards and signed up for email lists that send out job opportunities. "I’ve been trying to network," she says, "but that has been difficult because I'm not sure where to turn."
She did find one offer, but the salary, $80,000, was far below what she had been making, and the job required frequent travel across Southern California.
"I’m a single parent," she notes. "I have obligations to pick my child up from school and day care. Having that big of a territory would just been impossible to keep my schedule at home."
This week, McLamore is traveling to the East Coast for a job interview at another pharmaceutical company. The job would pay close to what she had been making, but moving across the country poses challenges.
"I have joint custody of my son, so if I get a job at Boston, then I have custody issues with my son," she explains. "I'm not sure how I can work that out."g
Profile: Can't find work? Hire yourself
By Megan O'Neil
Name: Terria Cooley
Home: San Fernando Valley, Calif.
Employment status: Launched her own company this year
Terria Cooley spent two years knocking on doors in search of a job. Finally, in May, she created a company and hired herself.
As head of TLC Engineering Pipeline Construction Services, Cooley is bidding on contract management for public works projects by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Port of Los Angeles, among other entities.
"It is very exciting," Cooley says. "After being unemployed for a few years what else can you do except go to school and educate yourself?"
Cooley had 15 years experience in the oil and gas industry, most recently as a planner and document-control specialist for a subcontractor that did business with Conoco Phillips. She earned about $65,000 a year. But she lost that job in January 2009 -- a blow that coincided with the dissolution of her marriage and a cancer diagnosis. She scraped by on a combination of unemployment and disability benefits.
Once healthy enough to seek employment, Cooley tapped into resources through programs including Women in Non-Traditional Employment Roles (WINTER) and the Verdugo Jobs Center. She rode the bus to Glendale Community College where she enrolled in a technical training program and learned to install smart meters, high-tech utility gauges increasingly popular with cities trying to reduce water and electricity consumption.
"I was desperate – a single mom with two kids trying to reestablish my employment," Cooley says.
She finished the program with top marks. Still, a job eluded her.
Cooley eventually fell under the mentorship of executives at a Long Beach-based project management firm, EPCM Professional Services International. She received additional training in environmental planning, scheduling and change-management. It was there that concept for her own firm took root.
These days Cooley is feeling upbeat. She has her sights set on an engineering degree from Cal State Long Beach. She says she is looking forward to the day when her firm lands its first contract, and she continues as a trainee at EPCM.
"I have learned a lot of things from them," Cooley says. "This was the greatest thing that ever transpired in my life."
Profile: The newly employed
By Paige Brettingen
Name: Josh Langdon
Home: Los Angeles, California
Employment status: Financial services, manager since September 2012
In May 2011, Josh Langdon lost his dream job – vice president for a small investment bank in London – when his company downsized. Last month, he landed a new job as a manager in another financial services firm in Los Angeles.
In between, he spent six months in London looking for work. During that time he applied for 100 different jobs, got 12 interviews, but no offers.
He returned to the U.S., but decided not to continue his job-hunting frenzy.
"I was unemployed by choice," says Langdon, who has an MBA degree. "A ton of people in my position, when we got downsized, we all got big checks, so we didn’t have to go work and we chose to do something else, something that was our decision."
Langdon started a custom-made men’s wardrobe business and became a board member for two other startups around Los Angeles for which he had consulted while he was unemployed. But it didn’t add up to a full-time job.
In September, a friend set up a job interview for him at another boutique financial services company. Langdon was hired as a senior manager. His salary is in the same six-figure range he had been earning at his previous job.
His time out of work, he says, wasn't so bad: "Even though I wasn't spending my time interviewing or running around to set up a phone call, I also wasn't just sitting around. I was constantly doing something… I was always looking for an opportunity."
Profile: Back at the starting line
By Megan O'Neil
Name: Kevin Nakatsuka
Home: Glendale, California
Employment status: Just landed a job in an ABC Studios warehouse
After 13 years in the entertainment business, Kevin Nakatsuka is back at the starting line.
In July, the Hawaii native landed a spot in the ABC Studios Production Associates Program where he works in a warehouse helping to catalog, store, reuse and recycle production sets. The one-year gig is tailored for recent college graduates, and Nakatsuka is by far the oldest participant.
Still, he isn’t complaining.
"It was a very humbling experience, but when you are unemployed for three years, the pride goes out the window," Nakatsuka says. "I just wanted a steady job again. I didn’t care if I was starting at the bottom again. It is about getting involved and working."
Nakatsuka's foray into the industry started in his home state with freelance on-set and post-production jobs for movies, TV shows and commercials. Nine years ago, he made the transition to Los Angeles, and wound up as manager of an independent studio based near Universal Studios in Hollywood.
He spent five years there, involved in a range of TV and movie projects, working on production, promotion and distribution. Busy months saw the company with 200 people on its payroll. In 2008, amid the economic downturn, work slowed to a standstill. The company lost its building and laid off most of its staff, including Nakatsuka.
He began working his way through his Rolodex. “During that three years it was about contacts and getting to know more people,” Nakatsuka says. He downsized his lifestyle and lived on the cheap, surviving on a combination of savings and unemployment. He stayed busy volunteering as an assistant director on independent projects, before a friend told him about the ABC program.
Nakatsuka says his new job pays about one-third less than what he was earning before he was laid off. But there are some perks, including tickets to Disneyland. And the one-year program offers a path to a permanent job.
Most importantly, Nakatsuka said, he’s back in the business he loves.
Profile: A year without a paycheck
By Subrina Hudson
Name: Brittany Pye
Home: Los Angeles, California
Employment status: Looking for work in sales -- and discouraged
It’s been one year since Brittany Pye last got a paycheck.
She had worked at an In-n-Out Burger restaurant in the summer of 2011, then left to focus on school. She received her associate’s degree in liberal arts five months ago from West Los Angeles College and has since spent her time scanning websites like Craigslist for a job.
"It’s tricky now. Everything is online and I hate that," says Pye, who started working at the age of 16 in various retail jobs. "Before, you could just go in [a business] and fill out an application. Now, it’s a million people filling out the same application online."
Through the help of a friend, Pye was able to connect with a job recruitment agency this week. She is scheduled to have an interview next week for a telephone sales job at a weight-loss program.
The job would pay $13 an hour. If she’s hired and passes the three-month probation period she would have a chance to move up to a sales lead position paying $15 an hour.
But Pye believes her job prospects are bleak. She says many of her friends are having a difficult time finding work. She points to competition from older applicants who can bring more experience and maturity to the table. She believes employers are hesitant to hire people her age, thinking they’re irresponsible.
"Even if they open more jobs, it’s the same … they like the older crowd," she says. "A lot of people want someone with experience but how can you get that when you don’t hire them?"